In a move that could see the UK catch up with the USA and Singapore - the global front runners of the autonomous vehicle pack - the UK chancellor pledged in November’s Autumn Budget to open up geospatial mapping data that was previously only accessible to large companies with deep pockets.
This was warmly welcomed by the Open Data Institute whose chairman and co-founder, Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt, said: “The OS Master Map provides the most detailed landscape data in the UK. It will make it easier to find land for house-building. It will also enable the development of services that improve vital infrastructure.” He added that opening up access to the OS Master Map will stimulate growth and investment in the UK economy, generate jobs and improve services.
This access to mapping data could help the UK to develop something similar to HERE Technologies’ High Definition Live Map. The cloud-based service offers a three-layered map that helps connected vehicles to "see" the road ahead. “We’re taking our mapping legacy and building precision on top, so it is not metres accurate but centimetres accurate. Then we’re layering on top all the sensor information we’re getting from vehicles out on the road, so the map can be updated in real-time,” said Alex Mangan, head of automotive product marketing at HERE. “Our map can help give sensors in the vehicle foresight, so the car can proactively make decisions, rather than reactively.”
Mangan said that, despite autonomous vehicles having a lot of technology on-board that could “see, feel and understand” their surroundings, there are limitations to what the sensors can do. They can only “see” 300 meters ahead unobstructed and if there is an obstacle, such as a truck, directly in front, this visibility is reduced even further.
"The map helps the vehicle understand things it wouldn't be able to do without the map."
The HD Live Map, however, can see through trucks, around corners and x number of kilometres ahead. “This is essential value that a map provides because it can help the vehicle and sensors within it see and understand things it wouldn’t be able to do without a map,” said Mangan. The legacy HERE Technologies is building on is an immense amount of data on road and street furniture captured over the years.
Mangan explained that the company began life as a mapping company called Navteq in 1985 and would send people with paper maps out on to the roads to collect information about road signs and street architecture. As technology evolved, the paper maps were discarded as vehicles were kitted out with high precision GPS and camera technology that built a 2D representation of the road world. Today, 80% of vehicles with embedded navigation use HERE maps.
At the Frankfurt Motor Show, HERE Technologies announced its advanced navigation and location technology would be integrated into every new Audi A8. The car was dubbed by Forbes “almost the most important car in the world.” This development is somewhat unsurprising considering HERE has been owned by a consortium of three German automotive companies – Audi, BMW and Mercedes – since 2015. In 2017, Intel took a (15%) stake in the company.
HERE now supports integration between the driver’s app which allows advanced route planning, prediction and optimisation. It also gathers sensor information from its connected cars, stores it in the cloud and sends it back down to alert other drivers and vehicles to traffic, hazards - such as black ice - and available street parking.
Back in the UK, in last week’s Autumn Budget, the chancellor Philip Hammond committed to legislate for autonomous vehicles to be on the road without a person at the wheel, so driverless vehicles could be roaming Britain’s roads by 2021. Furthermore, a partnership between Jaguar Land Rover, Ford and Tata Motors announced in November that the UK’s largest driverless car trial will move on to public roads in Coventry and later in Milton Keynes in early 2018.
MOVE_UK is three-year project backed by a consortium of cross-sector businesses that is also seeking to accelerate the entry of driverless cars on to Britain’s road. It comprises Bosch, Transport Research Laboratory, Jaguar Land Rover, Direct Line Group, telematics company The Floow and the Royal Borough of Greenwich.
"We're looking at horizontalising the technology with the legislation."
In August, the UK government published a set of guidance principles for connected and autonomous vehicles, but this just covers the cyber-security aspect. This is not the only bump in the road in terms of legislation. The vast amounts of data generated by a driverless car could prove too costly and cumbersome for an insurer to process, thus leading to higher insurance premiums.
According to Mangan, we are still a long way away from fully autonomous vehicles with no screens or steering wheels. However, a world where there is a mix of self-driving and manual cars on specific stretches of the road network may only be a few years away.
Mangan added that HERE Technologies is doing its part to bring that forward and unite the silos of technology and legislation around driverless vehicles. “We’re engaged in a number of different pilots where we’re are looking at horizontalising the technology with the legislation to make sure there is alignment there,” he said.